California: A Profile of Promising Practices from Canada and Abroad – Go for health! Collaborative

“Collaboration, an open process, and engaging the media…those are the things that worked”

Lead Organization:
United Way of Santa Cruz County

Key Partners:
Over 150 agencies: schools, parents, community-based organizations, health care professionals, media, food industry, businesses, planners, policy-makers

Santa Cruz County, California, USA

Population of Region:


Target Group:

Project Focus:
A comprehensive multi-sector approach to address the fast growing epidemic of childhood obesity

Implementation Level:

Stage of Development:


Over the last three decades, Santa Cruz County has faced rising rates of childhood obesity. In 2003, the rate of childhood obesity in Santa Cruz County was among the worst in California. To address this issue, the Go for Health! (GHF!) collaborative was established in August 2003 with the goal of developing and coordinating a county-wide response to the childhood obesity health crisis. With more than 150 member organizations, the collaborative represents a broad array of sectors. Together these agencies are working to create a comprehensive plan to improve children’s health through healthy eating and regular physical activity.

A community scan showing a need for bike lanes in Watsonville, CA
Photo Credit: United Way of Santa Cruz County

A community scan showing a need for bike lanes in Watsonville, CA

Go for Health! has enlisted the help of schools, parents, health care professionals, local media, local businesses, city planners, and local and state policy-makers to effect long-term change in reducing rates of obesity in the county. During its initial nine month planning phase, Go for Health! did extensive research to learn how to address childhood obesity. They realized childhood obesity is a health epidemic with multiple and complex causes. To combat the problem would require a collective effort, a comprehensive plan and collaborative strategies among all sectors of the Santa Cruz County community. For this reason, Go for Health! worked from the beginning to develop a broad based membership.

One of the main purposes of the Go for Health! collaborative is to bring agencies together so that they are unified in an effort to create long-term change.

Examples of Go for Health!’s successes include:

  • School wellness policies with comprehensive recommendations around nutrition and physical activity for each School District in Santa Cruz County;
  • Incorporation of recommendations for healthy lifestyle components into community plans;
  • Facilitation of a tri-county summit on the built environment; and
  • Workshops for Santa Cruz County healthcare providers featuring pediatricians who are experts in the field of childhood obesity prevention.


The Go for Health! collaborative started getting partners on board during the initial 2003 planning phase. Public awareness speeches and press releases were vital to making community organizations aware of what was happening. Strategic outreach and community outreach was directed to a wide audience. To maximize their impact, Go for Health! also partnered with other coalitions working on similar health issues, such as a tri-county diabetes collaborative, and a Nutrition Fitness Collaborative of the Central Coast. This allowed Go for Health! “to reach across county lines.” Go for Health!’s large membership base has made it possible to accomplish a great deal of work through sharing of resources.

The key organizations that were driving forces behind the project included the Public Health Department, Second Harvest Food Bank, United Way, the County Board of Supervisors, local businesses and health groups. Local businesses were a non- traditional partner who started by getting involved during the planning process and then continued providing support through the Steering Committee. Law enforcement was another new partner, and a crucial one, as perceptions of public safety are important to engage people in outdoor activities. Unfortunately, law enforcement agencies did not continue to participate as departments are short staffed and need staff to be out in the field.

Local and state lawmakers were very supportive during the planning process. In 2004, GFH! held a policy summit which was well attended by lawmakers - even today they remain engaged in the program.

Planning & Implementation

The planning process started with nine monthly meetings with key stakeholder groups, facilitated by United Way. Forty-five to fifty-five people attended each meeting. Members were informed about childhood obesity and local statistics. They then brainstormed desired community changes, identified outcomes and chose action steps. A draft plan was presented to over 250 people in 19 community and civic groups. The result of this process was a long-term strategic planning document, which has become a guiding tool for achieving the goals and objectives of GFH! The plan identifies 24 outcomes and related action steps to improve children’s eating and physical activity habits by improving children’s and families’ environments, engaging health care providers, changing food industry practices and enlisting the media. Several sub-committees and a Steering Committee were created to carry out the various components of the Strategic Plan. The plan was also used to guide funding requests and implement a “call to action.”

Generating Buy-In

Involving stakeholders in an open planning process helped promote buy-in and led to a high level of engagement. “The initial process was very successful,” said Shebreh Kalantari, Director of Community Organizing at United Way.

Media, public service announcements, local newspaper articles, radio interviews and television interviews have also helped to increase awareness and spur more community involvement. Today, there is far more awareness around childhood obesity than when the project started. “The collaboration, an open process, and engaging the media… those are the things that worked” the Director adds.

Health fair with state first lady Maria Shriver promoting food stamps
Photo Credit: United Way of Santa Cruz County

Health fair with state first  lady Maria Shriver promoting food stamps

Initial funding for the project came through mini-grants from Pajaro Valley Community Health Trust and from Catholic Health Care West, in addition to in-kind funding from local agencies and non-profits such as United Way.

Securing ongoing funding continues to be a challenge. Because funding is provided largely through in-kind contributions, few paid staff resources can be dedicated to the project. In addition, GFH! has been challenged to track and evaluate the work it undertakes, as this requires both funding and time.

Lessons Learned

If starting the project again, Kalantari would involve more youth in the early stages. This was not done during the initial planning process and would have been extremely beneficial.

One unanticipated spin-off was the development of a Youth Advocacy project in the City of Watsonville, located in south Santa Cruz County. The project involves a group of 25-30 youth who are focusing on policy, procedures and systems change. Currently, they are working to address issues such as providing more sidewalks in Watsonville and creating policy to limit fast food restaurants near schools. Another unanticipated spin-off at GFH! was the launch of a new social marketing campaign called “52-10,” to target childhood obesity. The campaign is based on a healthy lifestyle messaging strategy pioneered by the Maine Youth Overweight Collaborative.

The next steps for the Go for Health! collaborative include revising their Strategic Plan to incorporate a vision for the next five years, and securing additional funding to continue the project.

Advice to Other Communities

Advice for other communities wanting to do something similar is to base the problem statement on accurate, research-driven data. The collaborative process used by Go for Health! could be adapted to both urban and rural settings with little modification. The collaborative has demonstrated the effectiveness of a diverse coalition of partners in promoting community health.

Evaluation and Impact

Go for Health! has access to state-wide data and some local data that measures obesity and nutrition. Currently, they are in the process of collecting secondary data, but, unfortunately, lack of funding has limited this time-consuming and costly process.

Some encouraging local statistics include the fact that Santa Cruz County has gone from ranking in the top 10 counties in the state of California for high rates of childhood obesity to a ranking of 29th. The Director believes this decrease in obesity rates in the last 6 years is at least partially a result of the GFH! program.

To disseminate the results of this project to the public, GFH! makes regular presentations to the board of supervisors and to stakeholders, and continues to provide information to the media as often as possible.  Go for Health! also presents findings and showcases their work at community events such as health fairs. In the future, they would like to present findings about the success of the program at conferences.

Go for Health! is steadily moving towards its goal to ensure that all children in Santa Cruz County will be physically fit and well-nourished through healthy eating and regular physical activity.


Laura Young
Director of Community Organizing
United Way of Santa Cruz County
1220 41st Avenue, Suite C
P.O. Box 1458
Capitola, CA 95010
Telephone: 831-465-2207


Report a problem or mistake on this page
Please select all that apply:

Thank you for your help!

You will not receive a reply. For enquiries, contact us.

Date modified: